"Those Who Can't Do, Teach"??

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"Those Who Can't Do, Teach"??

“Those who can’t do, teach.” Statements like this have annoyed teachers (like me) for generations. It is based on some flawed but understandable assumptions. For many people, teaching is not a distinct activity that requires the mastery of certain skills and techniques. Teachers just talk about stuff, give out assignments, and show some videos. Since anyone can do these things, the teaching “profession” is supposedly filled with people of mediocre talent and skill who are apparently unable to do something more tangible.

So where does this perception come from? To a certain degree, it is the nature of the profession. It is difficult, after all, to measure accurately the performance of a teacher. This is not the case with many other occupations. If a civil engineer, mechanic, or stockbroker does his or her job poorly, it can result in crumbling bridges, dysfunctional automobiles, and heavy losses for investors. If a teacher does a lousy job, students still might receive a passing grade. It is difficult to measure the academic “damage” that has been done by the teacher’s poor performance. So when people say that anyone can teach, what they are really saying is that anyone can teach badly.

One of the central issues debated in education today is the question of teacher accountability. President Obama and his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, have both expressed support for the idea of tying teacher evaluations to student performance. This would be a first step toward measures that could give school districts more power to get rid of teachers who are not performing. Teacher’s Unions, concerned about the job security of their members, have expressed hostility to this idea. To a certain degree, I can understand their complaints. If teachers are judged by their students’ standardized test scores, there will be pressure to train students to be skilled standardized test takers. Are high test scores necessarily evidence that effective teaching and real learning has occurred? Also, student test scores are somewhat out of the teacher’s control. Should a teacher be penalized for having a “bad crop of kids”? On the other hand, resistance to teacher accountability standards can further weaken the profession. If teachers want the respect (and higher pay) that they feel they deserve, they need to be held to some type of a measurable standard. Guaranteed job security can promote mediocrity, and it gives credence to the phrase “those who can’t do, teach.”

The perception that teaching is easy is also the result of a teacher’s unique work schedule. After all, teachers only work for about eight months of the year, and the school day typically ends at about 3:00. This creates the impression that people take these “easy,” low-paying jobs rather than doing some “real work.” Community College teachers like myself seem to have it particularly easy. If a college professor teaches about five or six classes per semester, then he or she is working about 20 hours per week. Plus, we still get all of that vacation time, we don’t have to worry about decorating classrooms, and we don’t have to stress out over discipline problems. This job is cake!

There are a couple of problems with this perception that teaching at any level is easy. A teacher’s workload cannot simply be measured by the hours spent in front of a classroom. The time spent grading papers, creating productive activities, increasing one’s knowledge of the course material, and interacting with students and/or parents after class hours is not included in simplistic calculations of a teacher’s work hours. Also, during those official class hours, a teacher must always be in performance mode. We can rarely relax (as people on 9-5 schedules may have opportunities to do.) Yes, there are times where we can pop on a video or hand out an assignment, although even these activities require a certain amount of monitoring. Most of the time, however, is spent communicating with students either through lectures, the facilitation of activities, or one-on-one instruction. Anyone who has ever done these things for an extended length of time knows how exhausting it can be. I generally love performing in front of a class, but there are days when I am just not feeling it. I do not have the option, however, of mailing it in for an hour or two (or three). I need to kick myself in the butt and find the energy and enthusiasm to keep students interested and awake. If students pick up on any lack of energy on my part, it will not be a productive day.

Teaching well requires skill, energy, passion, and a certain amount of intuitive talent. Of course, if someone without these qualities slacks off and just hands out worksheets and shows movies, then the job is a piece of cake. Of course, it’s also true that any job is easy to do poorly


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Comments 6 comments

wingedcentaur profile image

wingedcentaur 6 years ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

Good Day Freeway Flyer!

Welcome to HubPages. I voted this hub up for both useful and awesome. I went to your profile page after I responded to the comment you kindly left on my hub about Intelligent Design. You know, as its a bit late, I'm embarassed to say, that looking over the response I gave, I see that I had misspelled three words. I'm so nonplussed about that!

I especially feel that way right after I said that I hope I don't disappoint you. I see you honored me by joining my "fan club," as it were.

I would attribute the sentiment "Those who can't teach," to the neoliberal movement that arose during the seventies. There were many damaging cultural effects of that movement. I think of the Me-generation, Ronald Reagan eighties.

This was the period when society was encouraged to model itself on the supposedly efficient, logical, performance-based, result-oriented business world. It was said that government needed to "clean up its act," and be more like business (obsession about budget balancing and the like -- though not with Reagan and his defense budget, eh?), and so on and so forth.

The survival-of-the-fittest, law of the jungle business world was celebrated in the movies (every other one of which, it seemed, gave us the line "Those who can't [make millions on Wall Street] teach. The eighties was the period when we really witnessed government (the public sector) turn against itself, with Reagan saying "Government isn't the answer to the problem. Government is the problem."

We were treated to that kind of thing. Bill Clinton even said "The era of big government (meaning a meaningful public sector) is over." We are seeing the continuation of that momentum with Obama's policy direction on education, all of this privatization, charter schools -- I mean "choice" and "accountability."

I think this movement comes from a place of trying to make teaching more "businesslike" and "professional." I wish people would realize [witness this latest fiscal and economic crisis, for example] that business isn't very businesslike, and maybe we can all stop trying to emulate the corporate world now. Maybe.

Take care.


Freeway Flyer profile image

Freeway Flyer 6 years ago Author

Good points. It's like something only has value if it produces a large amount of income. Since good teaching is difficult to tangibly measure, it's easy to assume that it somehow has no value. Thanks for stopping by. If you get the chance, let me know what you think of my own creation/evolution hub. There's a funny song posted there about "intelligent design."


sofs profile image

sofs 6 years ago

Hey Freeway Flyer, welcome to HP

I am in my early forties and I just wrote to my Teacher who is now in the UK. I remembered him for the passion with which he taught, I speak often of my junior school teacher because she put the love of this alien language (English) in my heart.

A good teacher is always respected for what they pass on to their wards. The sphere of influence you have on young minds is immeasurable.

If only this is understood and the responsibility for molding lives is taken seriously we would have the world right side up!

I am voting this up!!


mysterylady 89 profile image

mysterylady 89 6 years ago from Florida

I agree with you. Unless a person has experienced being a teacher or has been blessed with having very good teachers, he cannot imagine the energy the job takes. Accountability is a real problem, too. Much that an educator imparts simply cannot be measured.


dosters profile image

dosters 5 years ago from Chicago

"I generally love performing in front of a class, but there are days when I am just not feeling it. I do not have the option, however, of mailing it in for an hour or two (or three). I need to kick myself in the butt and find the energy and enthusiasm to keep students interested and awake. If students pick up on any lack of energy on my part, it will not be a productive day."

I love this line. As a teacher myself, I agree with you that unlike other jobs, you don't have the opportunity to just kind of sit there and pretend to work. I know from working in other environments that some days you just aren't feeling like doing your job and can look busy until lunch, then kick ass in the afternoon. Not in teaching my friend. You better put on your game face from the first bell to the last.

It is always funny to hear people in the same breath complain about how teachers have it easy and also that they only checked their facebook "a couple of times at work today." Please.


Donna Kay Bryan profile image

Donna Kay Bryan 4 years ago

Thank you for writing everything I so often want to say to parents, politicians, and the world in general. All the time that I have put into my students with planning, grading, workshops, and parent phone calls does not leave much time for evenings, weekends, or summer vacations. It's nice to know that I am not the only one who experiences that. Voted up "useful" and "awesome."

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